At the risk of stating the obvious or being a sucker for punishment, let us assess where Manchester United’s results in the Premiership so far this season.
- After 20 games, this is the LOWEST points total United have ever had in the league (34 points)
- In the same season, they have lost FOUR home games. Note that in the whole of the last three seasons combined, the number of home defeats was five.
- This season alone, Everton got their first win at Old Trafford in 21 years, West Bromwich Albion their first win in 35 years, and Newcastle their first win in 41 years.
- United have lost back-to-back home games for the only the second time in EPL history, and the first time since December 2001 (3-0 to Chelsea on December 1st, 1-0 to West Ham on December 8th)
Let me be clear: no one who follows United would have expected a straight continuation of the successes of the Ferguson era, but no one expected such a dramatic decline from last season. Those who support Moyes have taken refuge in the argument that he needs more time to build his squad, that he needs more money to buy players, and that the squad itself is not good enough, but that argument does not wash for a number of reasons.
- This group of players is a title winning side. They actually won the title last season. They didn’t come 2nd, 3rd or 4th. They came first with 11 points to spare. After 20 games last season, this SAME group of players had 49 points. This season it is 34. A 15 point drop cannot just be written off by a ‘poor squad’.
- After leaving Everton, Roberto Martinez was appointed to replace Moyes at Everton. His last act at Wigan was securing one of the biggest FA Cup upsets of all time by beating Manchester City. The progress of Martinez – again with largely the same group of players – is as big an indictment as there could possibly be of Moyes. Martinez has maximised the players at his disposal (which is the purpose of every manager, by the way) and this is also borne out by the numbers. After 20 games, Everton are a full five points better off than they were at this stage last season, and are playing a much more open, refreshing style than it was under Moyes. In addition, they are actually above United in 5th place. Of course, this may not last till the end of the season, but there is reason to suggest that any money spent on the squad will yield dividends.
- There is an even worse indictment to come: Moyes did indeed have money to spend in the summer. He spent it all on Marouane Fellaini, who played under him for five years at Everton. Moyes should know this player. He should know how best to use him. Alas, the opposite appears to be the case. Where he has played, games frequently pass by the Belgian in the middle of the park, a position he plays for his national team. He appears leaden footed, unable to influence games at all. For the grand sum of 27 million pounds.
- A key part of United’s title winning campaign last season was the signing of Robin Van Persie, who scored many of the goals that were so important in the first half of the season. Previously known as an injury prone player, he has been constantly available since the second half of the 2010-2011 season, playing a massive part in securing Arsenal’s top 4 status for back to back seasons. In 2010-2011, he played 1,770 minutes. In 2011-2012, he played 3,331 minutes. Last season, he played 3,123 minutes. So, over the last two seasons, he has appeared in every single EPL game. 72 of them from the start, 4 of them as a substitute. Enter David Moyes and his entire back room staff, and Van Persie has played just over half the available minutes. The reason for this is an overly strenuous training regime that essentially fixes – or rather, breaks – what was not broken. Van Persie was fine before Moyes, now he can’t stay fit. And United do not have one of their best players available because of this. Of course, this has been a blessing in disguise because Danny Welbeck finally gets to play as a striker, rather than on the left wing, and is expectedly excelling at it. He now has 5 goals in 5 EPL games.
- However, there is further evidence of incompetence when charged with the task of keeping players fit. Wayne Rooney is currently struggling with a groin problem, and rather than let it get better, he was once again left on the pitch for 90 minutes against Spurs, eventually ending up in midfield with Shinji Kagawa. Van Persie’s latest injury was also the result of being used for 90 minutes upon his return. When you do not have your best players fit, the team suffers. Rushing them back simply replaces one problem with an even larger one.
- While those who support Moyes say he should be given money to buy players, he has clearly made a mess of his first transfer window. In addition, if his use of the squad he has at his disposal is anything to go by, it is unlikely that investment in the team will do anything other than paper over the cracks. David Moyes has no obvious philosophy, no clear idea about how he wants to play on the field, which would influence his signings, selections and substitutions. He does not have the identity of a Rodgers, Martinez, Wenger or Simeone, to say nothing of people like Klopp, Bielsa or Guardiola. If he does not have a philosophy, then it explains the failure, so far, of Marouane Fellaini. After all, if you are not quite sure how you want to play, it then means the pattern of signings will appear an ill-fit for the team you want to create.
- Lastly, let us talk about this issue of patience. Of giving a manager time. A lot of people give the example of Alex Ferguson, who won the title after spending seven years with United. However, a lot of people also forget that as manager of Aberdeen in Scotland, he was a serial winner. He won 3 Scottish titles, 4 Scottish Cups, 1 Scottish League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating Real Madrid. He had earned the right to ask for time. The good results of Roberto Martinez so far, with his old club, and his former players, is also a serious indictment. You can clearly see that Martinez knows what he is doing. You cannot say the same for Moyes. Let us also not forget people like Simeone, who joined Athletico Madrid in December 2011, won the Europa League in May 2012, won the Super Cup in August 2012, and beat Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey in May last year. When he took over at the Calderon, Athletico were 10th, 21 points behind leaders Real Madrid. They ended that season 5th, and finished 3rd last season. Now, they are level on points with Barcelona and five points clear of Real, having broken their very poor run in the league against them.
There are more examples I could give, but suffice to say that while some managers deserve time, others do not. I do not think David Moyes deserves time. If the Glazers think that he does, that is perfectly fine. I just hope their books can accommodate not playing in the Champions’ League for at least one season. The top 3 are gradually moving clear, leaving 4th -8th to fight it out for the remaining place. As it stands, United are 5 points behind Liverpool. That gap is not at all insurmountable, but the margin for error is reducing.
The price of inaction could be 50 million pounds. At least.